About 4 years ago I had no idea what the "Doctrines of Grace" were. Since then I have come to love these dear truths. Through them I have found my vision of God to have grown significantly. The God whom I have believed in even previous to my encounter with these doctrines has not changed, but my understanding of Him has. Thanks to this tremendous grace I now find myself finding God evermore amazing, powerful, merciful, just, and entirely sovereign.
For those of you who may be like me and have never heard the term "Doctrines of Grace" here is a tremendously oversimplified summary. These doctrines fit into the acronym T.U.L.I.P. Although I'm fairly familiar with TULIP, I'm no expert and certainly am in no position to teach on this, I shall however try to briefly sum up each point.
Total Depravity - Man is devastatingly fallen because of sin. As such, man cannot resolve this issue and restore his relationship with God on his own. “Total means not that human beings are as bad as they could possibly be. We know that God’s common grace restrains evil in the world and that even lost people do many relatively ‘good’ things. Rather total depravity means that sin is pervasive in its effects on the whole of man’s nature; mind, heart, and will are all affected by sin.”
Unconditional Election - God chooses who His people are, not the other way around, and He chooses them not because of them, but because of Him. “God’s choice ultimately determines who will be saved. All men are invited to choose God and no one is saved without choosing God, but no one can choose God without God first choosing them.”
Limited Atonement - “Limited atonement does not mean that there is any limitation in the merit of the atoning sufferings of Jesus, but that only those who believe benefit from his death. The atoning work of Christ is unlimited in its power, but limited to believers in its application.”
Irresistible Grace - God reveals Himself in such a way to His people that they behold His magnificence and are drawn to Him as a bee is drawn to honey. God gives enough of Himself to His people that they can truly taste and see that He is good and so they follow Him willingly and delightfully.
Perseverance of the Saints - God grants the grace that is needed in each of His children for them to persevere to the end. He is the one who enables to persevere and ensures that they will.
"The truth of the doctrines of grace are initially in Scripture – otherwise they are not true! Historically, this view of grace was articulated by Augustine, and so came to be known as Augustinianism. Calvin drew on Augustine and emphasized predestination, though there is not much emphasis on limited atonement (and even dispute as to whether he even believed it). The TULIP was developed as a system by the Synod of Dort as a rejoinder to the counter-reformers of the Remonstrance. Thus the term which often applies to such beliefs "Calvinism."
(Thanks for the helpful quotations Brian)
The name "Calvinism" is not what is important, however the truths represented here are powerful and God glorifying.
Do not throw the baby out with the bath water! Calvinism is often misrepresented. I think it was Tozer who said, "If anything in Christianity is new it is by the same token false." Calvin was not coming up with new ideas, rather he was finding them entirely Scriptural and relevant to our understanding of who God is and who we are and what that means for our lives.
These doctrines are sweet to the soul and overwhelmingly Scriptural. I was first helped in my understanding of the Doctrines of Grace by an older teaching series from John Piper. He has recently done another teaching series on TULIP available in both video and audio formats for free (I have just downloaded the audio and am looking forward to listening to it soon).